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TIFF 2020 Review: Wolfwalkers

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Kilkenny has fallen under English rule in 17th century Ireland and Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney) has tasked hunter Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) to eradicate the wolves in neighbouring forest; his daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) is determined to help him and in attempting to do so has an encounter that changes her perspective about the animals deemed to be a threat by the settlers.

Despite her widower father insisting that she must stay behind while he hunts wolves, Robyn is determined to follow in his footsteps with a pet falcon serving as her guide.  Venturing into the forest leads to the apprentice hunter to uncover a magical and rare breed known as wolfwalkers that are human while awake and wolves when sleeping.   A friendship develops causing Robyn to experience a spiritual transformation that puts her into direct conflict with her father and the settlers he has vowed to protect.

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As much as Pixar and Studio Ghibli have garnered international acclaim, Cartoon Saloon from Ireland is building an equally impressive movie catalogue that embraces the 2D animation tradition and the creative freedom that 3D affords when producing effects.  Embracing Irish folklore and Celtic imagery is big part of the storytelling with Wolfwalkers offering a spiritual take on the werewolf mythology.  The 2D has a hand-drawn appeal while “wolfvision” provides an imaginative use of computer animation; the two vastly different techniques and styles do not clash but playoff of each other.

It is funny to have Sean Bean voicing a character wearing a big heavy coat and protecting a city surrounding by huge walls considering his previous role of Ned Stark in Game of Thrones.  There are some dark elements especially when the wolves embody the big bad faerie tale version and the use of fire as a destructive weapon.  The message of being one with nature would resonate well with Hayao Miyazaki.  The falcon called Merlin is a delightful sidekick with plenty of personality to spare.  Overall, directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart have crafted a movie that the entire family can enjoy.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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